Study: Solar and Wind Worth Cycling Costs, if Only Cycling Costs Are Considered

Study: Solar and Wind Worth Cycling Costs, if Only Cycling Costs Are Considered

thomasnet, wind, energy, renewable, studyA recent study produced by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) finds that if you consider certain factors and exclude others, wind and solar-generated power would be more economical than using fossil fuels as a source for power generation in the West by 2020. The caveat is that the study excludes certain factors.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) report, “Phase 2 of the Western Wind and Solar Integration Study (WWSIS-2),” focuses on the cycling costs for power plants in the West if wind and solar power generation replaced certain percentages of power from coal and gas. 

Cycling is the process of increasing and decreasing production from fossil fuels to accommodate wind and solar contributions — if solar is providing lots of power generation, the utility can ease back on the gas or coal generation, and at night ramp it up again.

There’s been much puffery about the report from sources claiming it proves that wind and solar will save the country billions of dollars in a few years. But it’s important to note cost factors excluded from the study.

“WWSIS-2 does not consider other factors such as capital costs of construction for wind, solar, fossil-fueled power plants, or transmission,” states the government press release announcing the study. “These costs are significant, but outside the scope of this study, which focuses on operations.”

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There’s also no mention of the cost of maintenance and upgrades for such young technology.

If you factor in only the costs of cycling power plants up and down, wind and solar are much cheaper than fossil fuels as sources of power generation under certain conditions in certain places in the West — and spew fewer noxious emissions to boot.

In other words, the study doesn’t say that by 2020 wind and solar power will be more economical, fully functional replacements for fossil fuels. But some reports have been making claims to the contrary – Windustry excitedly wrote that “the report concludes that boosting renewable production in the West to 25 percent of energy would save consumers billions of dollars.”

The report specifically leaves significant cost factors out of the equation and concludes no such thing. “The study focused on the wear-and-tear costs and emissions impacts from cycling of fossil-fueled plants,” its authors explain.

Nonetheless, given what the study actually examined, its conclusions are interesting and could be useful in certain situations.

This phase of the ongoing study primarily addressed what adding wind and solar generation to the grid under certain hypothetical scenarios would do to the operation of power plants.

And this is expensive too (Photo Credit: Progress Bangladesh)

And this is expensive too.

Cycling leads to wear-and-tear costs which wouldn’t be there if you just turned on the fossil fuel generation and left the room — but you’d have lower emissions at times, too.

Frequent cycling can cause “premature component failure and increased maintenance and repair,” according to the WWSIS-2 report. “Utilities are concerned that cycling impacts can significantly negate the benefits that wind and solar bring to the system.” They want to know if it will be worth the increased maintenance costs to patch in wind and solar.

Cycling is expensive. “For the average fossil-fueled plant,” the study finds, “cycling costs increase by $0.47 to $1.28 per MWh of fossil-fueled generation,” which the study called a “significant” increase.

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This article was originally published on ThomasNet News Industry Market Trends  and is reprinted in its entirety with permission from Thomas Industrial Network.  For more stories like this please visit Industry Market Trends.